Did globalization help Vladivostok rock?

The Boston Globe profiles Russian rock band Mumiy Troll, currently on their second American tour:  Most bands on their way to success have to face typical obstacles like dodgy record deals or squabbles among bandmates. Far fewer must deal with collapse and transformation of the social order, a crippling economic crisis, suspicious authorities, and a ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Wikipedia
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Wikipedia

The Boston Globe profiles Russian rock band Mumiy Troll, currently on their second American tour: 

Most bands on their way to success have to face typical obstacles like dodgy record deals or squabbles among bandmates. Far fewer must deal with collapse and transformation of the social order, a crippling economic crisis, suspicious authorities, and a music market where 9 out of 10 CDs are pirated and earn the bands zero revenue.

That’s the setting Russian artists have faced since the 1990s, and where Mumiy Troll, a veteran quartet from Vladivostok, have not just survived but prospered. Since leader Ilya Lagutenko and his bandmates, childhood friends and teen rock rebels in late Soviet days, formed the current lineup in 1996, they’ve reached — and kept — arena-filling star status in one of the world’s most turbulent markets.

The Boston Globe profiles Russian rock band Mumiy Troll, currently on their second American tour: 

Most bands on their way to success have to face typical obstacles like dodgy record deals or squabbles among bandmates. Far fewer must deal with collapse and transformation of the social order, a crippling economic crisis, suspicious authorities, and a music market where 9 out of 10 CDs are pirated and earn the bands zero revenue.

That’s the setting Russian artists have faced since the 1990s, and where Mumiy Troll, a veteran quartet from Vladivostok, have not just survived but prospered. Since leader Ilya Lagutenko and his bandmates, childhood friends and teen rock rebels in late Soviet days, formed the current lineup in 1996, they’ve reached — and kept — arena-filling star status in one of the world’s most turbulent markets.

The band certainly seems to have had a long road to success, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that some of the developments in the international music market over the years have actually helped the Mumiy Trolls of the world build an audience. In the brand new print issue of FP, I have a short piece on some new economic data compiled from global pop charts:

Waldfogel and Ferreira analyzed every song on the hit lists of 22 countries between 1960 and 2007. They then compared each country’s share of the pop-music market with the size of its economy.

Not surprisingly, American hits dominated, accounting for 51 percent of music sold over the period. Adjusted for GDP, however, Sweden takes the top spot — followed closely by Britain. Despite fears of pernicious cultural Americanization, more people around the world are listening locally: Foreign artists now account for just 30 percent of each country’s pop hits, down from about 50 percent in the 1980s.

What Waldfogel and Ferreira suggest (Full paper here.) is that media developments like Internet and locally programmed MTV stations, rather than unleashing a tsunami of Britneys and Kanyes on the rest of the world, have allowed local artists to gain a following more easily than they could in a world where success was measured in record sales and radio plays.

Mumiy Troll, who have built their success by constantly touring and producing quirky videos, are a perfect example. International success, like what Mumiy Troll are starting to enjoy, is a much harder nut to crack. But the band seems to be following in the trail of international stars from Sweden, which is, surprisingly, the world’s largest music exporter by share of GDP: they started to write songs in English.  

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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